Failed vasectomy

Medical history

A man in his thirties visited his GP to ask for a vasectomy. The GP advised the patient of the probable irreversibility of the operation and also the slight possibility that the operation might fail, due to early or late recanalisation. The patient signed a consent form and the operation went ahead uneventfully. Two negative sperm counts were obtained from the patient – at nine and 16 weeks after the vasectomy – and he then stopped using contraception.

More than a year later, the patient's wife visited the GP and was found to be eight weeks pregnant. She later gave birth to a healthy baby. The patient underwent a revasectomy under general anaesthetic.

Negligence alleged

The GP was sued by the patient who alleged he had negligently failed to warn him of the possibility of a late failure of the operation.

Expert opinion

The MDU sought the opinion of an expert urologist who gave the opinion:

"Vasectomy is undoubtedly the safest method of contraception but even the safest method has very occasional failures... (The patient and his wife) seemed to have been carefully counselled by ... (the GP) and warned of this small possibility and I therefore do not think that any of... (the GP's) action fell below the standard expected of a competent vasectomist..."

This view was endorsed by a GP expert, who pointed out that the risk of late recanalisation is reported as between 1 in 2000 and 1 in 7000. "Experience suggests that many if not most men do not remember being told about (this) risk..."

However, this expert also felt that the form which the GP had been using to get written consent to vasectomies should have been explicit about this slight risk.

Outcome

In spite of the expert witnesses' evidence on behalf of the GP, the patient pursued the case to trial at the county court. During the first day of the hearing, the patient's barrister applied for a recess and returned to propose a discontinuance of the case, with no order for costs. After discussion with the GP member, the MDU agreed to this proposal and the claim was discontinued.

This page was correct at publication on 01/10/2003. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.